Disease models & mechanisms

A murine Zic3 transcript with a premature termination codon evades nonsense-mediated decay during axis formation.

PMID 23471918


The ZIC transcription factors are key mediators of embryonic development and ZIC3 is the gene most commonly associated with situs defects (heterotaxy) in humans. Half of patient ZIC3 mutations introduce a premature termination codon (PTC). In vivo, PTC-containing transcripts might be targeted for nonsense-mediated decay (NMD). NMD efficiency is known to vary greatly between transcripts, tissues and individuals and it is possible that differences in survival of PTC-containing transcripts partially explain the striking phenotypic variability that characterizes ZIC3-associated congenital defects. For example, the PTC-containing transcripts might encode a C-terminally truncated protein that retains partial function or that dominantly interferes with other ZIC family members. Here we describe the katun (Ka) mouse mutant, which harbours a mutation in the Zic3 gene that results in a PTC. At the time of axis formation there is no discernible decrease in this PTC-containing transcript in vivo, indicating that the mammalian Zic3 transcript is relatively insensitive to NMD, prompting the need to re-examine the molecular function of the truncated proteins predicted from human studies and to determine whether the N-terminal portion of ZIC3 possesses dominant-negative capabilities. A combination of in vitro studies and analysis of the Ka phenotype indicate that it is a null allele of Zic3 and that the N-terminal portion of ZIC3 does not encode a dominant-negative molecule. Heterotaxy in patients with PTC-containing ZIC3 transcripts probably arises due to loss of ZIC3 function alone.